Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Your Child's Rights (page 4)
To understand your child's rights in America's public schools, it helps to start with one of the primary laws governing the education of children with disabilities: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (P.L. 101-476). IDEA is a federal law that guarantees a free and appropriate public education for every child with a disability. This means that if you enroll your child in public school, his/her education should be at no cost to you and should be appropriate for his/her age, ability and developmental level. IDEA is an amended version of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142), passed in 1975. In 1997, IDEA was reauthorized (P.L. 105-17), further defining children's rights to educational services and strengthening the role of parents in the educational planning process for their children.
Getting a copy of IDEA
Copies of the IDEA law and/or regulations are available from the Government Printing Office or may be available at your public library. Your state senator may also be able to provide you with a copy. Or you can visit the Web site of the Families and Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE) project, run by the PACER Center and funded by the U.S. Department of Education or the IDEA Partnerships Web site at http://www.ideapractices.org/ for information on the law and its regulations.
IDEA has both statutes and regulations. The IDEA statute is the governing legislation - the language of the law, and the regulations are an explanation of how the law is to be enacted. The law explains what conditions exist; the regulations explain how these conditions are applied.
Learn more about:
- Appropriate vs. Ideal
- Placement Options
Appropriate vs. Ideal
Given the rights your child has to educational services, you must keep in mind that IDEA establishes the minimum requirements schools must provide. For states to receive federal funds, they must meet the eligibility funding criteria of IDEA. States may exceed the requirements and provide more services. They cannot, however, provide less or have state regulations or practices that contradict the guidelines of IDEA.
The federal regulations do not require states to provide an "ideal" educational program or a program the parents may feel is "best." The state must provide an appropriate educational program, one that meets the needs of the individual student.
Two other laws governing the educational rights of students with disabilities are the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-380), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, (P.L. 93-112).
In brief, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of a student's educational records and outlines inspection and release of information. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protects the civil rights of persons with disabilities. It prohibits discrimination against a person with a disability by an agency receiving federal funds.
Parents need to be aware of the educational rights and the placement options available. There is not a "one size fits all" model for the education of children with disabilities. Programs that are called "autism classrooms" or "autism programs" may not provide the services and curriculum that are right for your child. Therefore, it is possible that a child with autism may not receive an appropriate education in an "autism class." The range of available placement options allows for the creation of unique educational placements for each child.
Placement options range from total inclusive settings where children with autism receive their education alongside non-disabled peers to private placement in residential programs for children with disabilities. Within that range, a wide variety of plans can be created to meet the unique needs of each student. A parent may wish to look at placement options as they currently exist for other students. By viewing current special education programs and inclusive classrooms, you'll get an idea of how other Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) have been put into practice.
Determining the most appropriate placement for your child is a two-step process:
- Determine your child's level of functioning and associated needs by requesting an evaluation or re-evaluation through the school or an independent professional(s). This evaluation should include specific recommendations for supports, educational services and levels of treatments.
- In collaboration with your child's prospective teacher(s), service providers and school administrator; develop a well-defined and thorough IEP. Discuss the options for placement that meet the needs of your child. How does the school currently provide services for children with disabilities? Are there programs currently in place that can be modified to meet my child's needs? Using this information, you and the school together can determine your child's most appropriate placement.
Least Restrictive Environment
When faced with the challenge of selecting an appropriate placement for a child, parents and professionals need to understand the concept of "least restrictive environment" (LRE). The IDEA sets up procedural guidelines to ensure a free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment tailored to each child's individual needs.
The law begins with the assumption that, to the maximum extent possible, children with disabilities should be educated with their non-disabled peers. Once the child's needs are assessed and necessary services and supports are determined, the placement options should begin with the regular or inclusive classroom. Children with disabilities do not have to start in a more restrictive or separate class and then "earn" the right to move to a less restrictive placement. If it is found that a regular education classroom would not meet the child's needs, even with support services, then another option may be pursued. Keep in mind that the child with a disability must benefit from the placement. The child should not be "dumped" in a classroom where the child is not receiving an appropriate education.
The law specifies that educational placement should be determined individually for each child, based on that child's specific needs, not solely on the diagnosis or category. No one program or amount of services is appropriate for all children with disabilities. A safe educational environment is important for all children. School safety concerns are addressed in IDEA. Educational services cannot be withheld as a disciplinary remedy. While students with disabilities may be suspended for disciplinary concerns that would also apply to general education students, educational services must continue at all times, even when a student is expelled for behavior not associated with his disability.
The first step in obtaining special education services is for your child to be evaluated. The evaluation can be done when your child is first suspected of having a disability (pre-placement evaluation) or when your child's level of functioning changes in one or more areas (re-evaluation). There are two ways in which a child can be evaluated under the regulations of IDEA:
- The parent can request an evaluation by calling or writing the director of special education or the principal of the child's school. If you call, also put your request in writing, keeping a copy for yourself. This should be part of your routine communication with anyone concerning your child's education. Follow-up all telephone calls with a letter summarizing the conversation. This way, the other party has the opportunity to make corrections to any misunderstood information, and you have a paper trail in case of a disagreement with the school system.
- The school system may also determine an evaluation is necessary. If so, they must receive written permission from the parent before the evaluation can be conducted.
An evaluation should be conducted by a multidisciplinary team or group of persons, which must include at least one teacher or other specialist with specific knowledge in the area of suspected disability. IDEA requires that no single procedure be used as the sole criterion for determining an appropriate education program for a child. The law also requires that the child be assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability, including but not limited to, health, vision, hearing, communication abilities, motor skills, and social and/or emotional status.
If the parents disagree with the results of the evaluation, they may choose to obtain an independent evaluation at public or private expense. A list of professionals that meet state requirements may be requested from your school, or you can choose one on your own. If the professional chosen meets appropriate criteria set up by the state, then the school must consider their evaluation in developing an IEP.
If a child already receives special education services, the above standards apply for re-evaluation. A re-evaluation must take place at least every three years. It may, however, be conducted more often if the parent or teacher makes a written request. An evaluation may also be done in specific areas of concern. A re-evaluation of all areas of suspected need or one for particular areas may occur if a parent feels their child is not meeting the short-term objectives of the current IEP.
Parents who feel their child's placement should be changed, need to have a basis for their request. For example, a child may be exhibiting problem behaviors that were not previously exhibited. It may be necessary to reassess his placement or develop new behavior techniques to address this area. As a first step, an evaluation by a specialist familiar with autistic behaviors could be requested. The IEP can then be changed to reflect the results.
For example, a child may have an annual goal to increase her language production and comprehension skills, but is not meeting the objectives developed in her IEP for this goal. The parent may wish to request that a re-evaluation be done with a speech therapist that has knowledge of autism. It may be determined from the results that an increase in the number of hours of therapy per week is necessary.
A re-evaluation of all areas of suspected need may come prior to the scheduled annual IEP meeting. If the child has made significant progress since the last evaluation, the treatment, placement and therapy recommendations may not be applicable. A re-evaluation, addressing all areas, would become the basis for a more appropriate IEP.
Parents may suggest professionals with knowledge of autism be present at the school for these evaluations. The school does not have to use the suggested professional, but may appreciate the assistance in finding a qualified person. As explained above, if the parents disagree with the school's evaluation, they do have a right to acquire an independent evaluation.
The evaluation (school or independent) should become the basis for writing the child's IEP. The IEP must be prepared and agreed upon before placement decisions are made. The placement may not be chosen first, then the IEP written to fit the placement decision.
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
Add your own comment
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- The Five Warning Signs of Asperger's Syndrome
- First Grade Sight Words List
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Graduation Inspiration: Top 10 Graduation Quotes
- What Makes a School Effective?
- Child Development Theories
- Should Your Child Be Held Back a Grade? Know Your Rights
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: Introducing Your Child to Your New Partner